The Democratic primary for J. Chapman Petersen's House of Delegates seat began quietly, with two challengers who had passion and platforms but no clear shot at an open seat.

The incumbent, allowed by Virginia law to run for two offices at the same time, kept open his option to defend his 37th District seat while he ran statewide for lieutenant governor. David Bulova and Janet S. Oleszek started campaigning door-to-door in January but were prepared to abandon their efforts if fellow Democrat Petersen lost the June 14 primary for lieutenant governor and pursued reelection.

Petersen decided not to seek reelection so that he could focus on his statewide campaign, allowing Bulova and Oleszek to introduce themselves to voters for real.

They are both familiar faces in the central Fairfax district that includes Fairfax City and county precincts that wrap around it to the south. Bulova, 36, is a member of the Soil and Water Conservation Board and the son of Democrat Sharon S. Bulova, the county supervisor representing the Braddock District. Oleszek, 58, is serving her first term as an at-large Fairfax County School Board member.

The winner will face one of two Republicans competing for their party's nomination: former Fairfax City mayor John Mason or lobbyist Jim Kaplan, also from the city.

The Democrats have stressed similar priorities should they go to Richmond: getting more state aid for Fairfax County to offset rising property taxes, easing traffic congestion, and unburdening local school districts of the costs of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law and other government mandates.

They differ in how they define their backgrounds and experience as potential assets in the General Assembly.

"I bring experience and plenty of it," said Oleszek, a substitute special education teacher. She is responsible for the $1.8 billion school budget, she said. "Overseeing a budget serving 165,000 school kids . . . is kind of an awesome task," she said.

Oleszek is a former legislation chairman for the Virginia PTA and cites her experience testifying before House and Senate committees as an advocate.

Bulova would bring a different background to the job, as an expert in helping local governments comply with environmental regulations. "Janet has experience in education, but if you're looking for someone with a breadth and depth of experience, I'm your man," he said.

Bulova helped manage his mother's second campaign and with his wife, Gretchen, started a community crime safety program. He also serves on the Consumer Protection Commission.

"I've dealt with consumer protection, environmental issues, crime protection, gang violence," Bulova said. His mother has contributed babysitting, money and advice, including "the value of listening and the value of empathy."

"Having been on the other side of the fence [campaigning for her], it's a very humbling experience," he said.

Bulova has been endorsed by a majority of Democrats on the county Board of Supervisors. Oleszek has the support of more than half the members of the school board.

The candidates were neck and neck in fundraising as of the March 31 filing deadline, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, with Bulova reporting $34,984 to Oleszek's $34,077.

Janet Oleszek campaigns door-to-door. She is in her first term as an at-large Fairfax County School Board member.Soil and Water Conservation Board member David Bulova works with his campaign manager, Amber Pringnitz.